UCF officials: tax rate cut will mean layoffs

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Governor’s budget to have little impact in short term, could be major problem in coming years

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal would mean steady funding for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District for 2012-13, but a new structure for state aid would mean aid would not grow with expenses over the coming years, pushing more burden onto real estate taxes.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — While Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal doesn’t appear to have a short-term negative impact on the local school budget — state funding for 2012-13 is proposed to be about the same as this year — school officials did say Monday night that cutting the proposed district budget will mean further layoffs.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Sanville told the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education during its Finance Committee meeting that cutting the budget $775,000 means cutting 10 teachers, or 3% of the teaching staff, or 20 support personnel, a year after 10 support personnel were cut. Currently, the proposed budget calls for using a pension exception to go above the state Act 1 Index — 1.7% — for a tax increase in Chester County.

“This isn’t intended to be a scare tactic or to have people worried about their positions,” Sanville said. “It is important for us to realize that that if we’re looking at the index, that the cuts are mostly going to be in people. That’s the reality.”

But even all the news about Corbett’s budget wasn’t good. If his restructuring plan is approved by the state legislature, basic education, transportation, Social Security reimbursement and the accountability block grant are all being merged into one line item the Student Achievement Education Block Grant. While the new structure adds just under $10,000 to state funding for the 2012-13 year, by detaching the transportation and Social Security funding from actual dollars spent, school officials feel Corbett’s plan ultimately will lead to net cuts in state funding over the next few years.

“State funding as a percentage of our funding is going to decrease,” Sanville said of the years following 2012-13, if the Corbett plan is approved as presented.

Furthermore, financial projections by the district based on these numbers suggest that hewing to the Act 1 limit could lead to a financial tsunami — assuming continued struggles in the local economy — leading to a multi-million dollar budget deficit by the end of the 2017-18 school year. A second set of projections that allows the district to raise taxes at rate of 3.71% has a vastly different outcome: after a couple of years of having to dip into fund balance, the district would be able to maintain and ultimately rebuild the fund balance, projecting roughly a $3 million surplus by 2017-18, needed to replenish the fund balance.

The net difference between the two scenarios in terms of fund balance is about $19 million, due to the cumulative effect of revenue increases — much like compounding interest.

Sanville said he was looking for guidance from the board on how to proceed — and what options should be put on the table, from four-day school weeks, early retirement incentives, cutting the school year from 182 to 180 days, to asking for givebacks from the district’s various bargaining units and looking at selling real estate the district owns near schools.

There was some good news — at least for the coming budget: the Interim Tax is running well above the estimate of $100,000, and is likely to be in the range of $250,000, according to the district’s Director of Business and Operations, Robert Cochran. He said he feels its likely that the number will be repeated in 2012-13, and the budget revenue can be raised accordingly.

“I think that’s a realistic figure as we go forward,” he said.

The administration will prepare various scenarios — based on further input from the baord and the public, starting with the formal school board meeting Feb. 27, followed by the Feb. 29 Community Conversation on district goals and continuing in the formal budget hearings, which are slated to start March 12. The board must give preliminary approval to the final budget in May, with final approval in June.

The preliminary budget, approved in January, calls for a 3.71% tax increase in Chester County (because of differences in real estate valuation, the tax rate in Delaware County is actually going down) and the district applied for exceptions to the Act 1 limit of 1.7% for pension costs.

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